Utagawa Kuniyoshi 歌川国芳 (1797–1861)
The Vigorous Growth of the Erotic Pine
(Shunshoku matsu no sakae), vol. 3 of 3

Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), c. 1848–1854
Woodblock-printed book; ink and color on paper
Purchase, Richard Lane Collection, 2003

Empress Jingū (Jingū kōgō, c. 169–269) traditionally is believed to have been the 15th imperial ruler of Japan, ascending the throne in 201 after the death of her husband, Emperor Chūai (dates unknown), and acceding the throne to her son, Emperor Ōjin (dates unknown) in 269. Although she is discussed in both the Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki, c. early 8th century) and The Chronicles of Japan (Nihon Shoki, 720), due to limited amount of evidence, the historical accuracy of her existence has been strongly contested. During the Meiji period (1868–1912), historians removed her from the official list of emperors and designated her as a legendary figure.

The reputation of Empress Jingū is primarily based upon tales of her invasion of Korea, and during the Edo period images of her dressed in battle armor and leading that military campaign were produced by various artists of the Utagawa School, including Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1865), Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), and Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861). In the text The Vigorous Growth of the Erotic Pine (Shunshoku matsu no sakae) by Kuniyoshi, although the artist does not specifically identify the character on the left page as the empress, he does describe her as a woman.

Since women were typically prohibited from serving in the military, and since battle armor was specifically designed for men, should we interpret this portrait as an example of transvestitism? If a wakashū’s gender was defined in part by his long-sleeved kimono (furisode), then isn’t Empress Jingū’s armor likewise a means through which she temporarily transformed her gender?

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